Serial entrepreneur Laurie Clark is the founder of three fintech companies: Canchek Corporation, Smarten Up Institute (the SmartDirect System), and Onyen Corporation. She shares her perspective on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on entrepreneurs and women in fintech.
As the pandemic draws on, how have entrepreneurs continued to adapt?
The pandemic was tough. Employers had no choice but to let people work remotely. While in-person service suffered, entrepreneurs found the proverbial silver lining. I launched Onyen in March 2021, a year into COVID-19, because regulations and calls for responsible investing didn’t stop. Onyen offers all companies innovative software to meet ESG reporting obligations, improving their companies’ profile and helping them gain access to funding. Online companies met our needs with highly-qualified freelancers, allowing us to hire expediently from a huge global pool of talent. I love that, a world away, some brilliant person is completing what I need by the time my day starts.
As fintech remains a male-dominated industry, what efforts are being made to empower women in the field?
Women in fintech don’t need to be empowered — they’ve proved themselves. But investors need — and Canadians deserve — an end to the “old boys’ network” to find great people and ideas and to end attitudes like: “Diversity should not be a goal, but rather a happy byproduct that occurs over time. It took 150 years after the abolition of slavery for the U.S. to elect a Black president. I’d like to think he was elected because he was competent and qualified, not because he was Black. Diversity takes time and cannot be forced.” Seriously? This was a comment on a February 2022 article describing findings from a study funded by Women Get On Board Inc. (which I’m a part of) that showed that until we have more women in senior roles (CEOs, specifically), there won’t be much movement in the boardroom, where things can really change. My mission is to ensure that women of all colours are invited to challenging, senior roles. At Onyen, we have a large contingent of women who are bright and talented at all levels of the company, and, of course, we’re a female-led company, which resonates with our shareholders. We salute the men who champion Onyen, women, and their ideas. That’s all it takes.
What advice do you have for women attempting to start their entrepreneurial careers?
First, your product needn’t be complex. It simply has to meet a need. I co-founded Canchek
in 2015 to help financial institutions comply with AML/ATF (anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing) rules, comparing disparate files. Then we added artificial intelligence tools: Canchek-eID enables remote client verification via iPhone and Android. Second, prepare for each step. Do more. Don’t give in or be daunted by naysayers. Be prepared for a really hard road. Act tough and have thick skin. No crying in public.
The good news is you have — we have — allies and heroes to inspire us. Just last month, a Black woman, against all odds, was nominated for one of the most important and prestigious of jobs — Supreme Court Justice of the United States. She’s supremely qualified, much more so than many others. This U.S. Supreme Court nominee has been a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, spent eight years as a trial court judge in the District Court for the District of Columbia, served 15 years as a public defender, was a Harvard Law grad and editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, clerked for three Supreme Court judges and was vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. She’s several magnitudes beyond at the very least one recent appointee, and thus she really demonstrates the distance in excellence women entrepreneurs must travel to meet their goals.